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U.S. Relief Aid Intensifies As Snow Hits Pakistan Quake Region

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2006 – U.S. military helicopter crews are stepping up deliveries of relief supplies to earthquake victims as snowstorms pummel Pakistan's northern Kashmir region.

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A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter externally loads humanitarian relief supplies in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Jan. 4. The sling loads enable U.S. forces to speed up deliveries in light of worsening weather conditions. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Acosta, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

CH-47 Chinook helicopters have doubled the aid they are providing to key distribution centers to ensure at least a 30-day food supply for victims in remote mountain villages, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad announced Jan. 8.

The choppers are now delivering more than 100 tons of cargo a day, much of it being carried in sling loads, external nets that hang below the aircraft. Use of sling-loads speeds up deliveries and increases the amount of supplies able to be ferried, officials explained.

Traditionally, loading the inside of a helicopter takes 10 to 15 minutes, and once at the delivery site, the chopper must land and get offloaded, which takes another 10 to 15 minutes, they said.

In contrast, aircraft flying sling loads can fly into the affected area, hover and drop the relief supplies, then quickly fly out. Choppers generally fly all day, landing only to refuel, explained Capt. Trent Cleveland, aviation liaison officer for Task Force Eagle, the aviation arm of U.S. Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan.

Pakistan's military works with nongovernmental organization representatives on the ground to collect the nets for reuse, officials said.

The stepped-up deliveries came as snowstorms interrupted deliveries by air and road.

Relief flight operations were temporarily halted when the first major winter storm hit the region earlier this month, but resumed immediately afterward, setting a one-day record for food deliveries, officials said.

"As soon as the weather improved, we were able to begin flying, and we delivered 125 tons of humanitarian assistance to the earthquake-affected areas," said Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, commander of the U.S. Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan, in a statement released by the embassy.

Inclement weather has prevented helicopter deliveries to the stricken areas just seven days since the operations began Oct. 9, officials said.

Since then, U.S. and coalition helicopters have flown more than 3,200 sorties, carried almost 15,000 passengers, evacuated almost 3,800 casualties and delivered more than 8.3 million tons of humanitarian aid, Air Force Maj. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, told the American Forces Press Service.

LeFever said the Pakistani government's leadership in pushing relief supplies to affected areas by air and road has impressed him.

"This is another step in the evolving strategy to support forward operating places, maximizing the Chinooks' heavy-lift capability to areas not accessible by road," he said in a statement. "It is working as planned, wonderfully well, and we feel good about the amount of food and provisions in the supply dumps."

LeFever, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 1, received orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Jan. 6 to remain in Pakistan through the winter to command the Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan, Navy officials said.

Rear Adm. John W. Miller, deputy commander of U.S. Navy Forces Central Command, has assumed duties as ESG-1 commander while LeFever leads the U.S. military humanitarian efforts from Islamabad, officials said.

About 870 U.S. servicemembers are in Pakistan, helping the host government by providing medical care, airlift capabilities and construction support for earthquake victims. This includes about 245 aviation troops assigned to Task Force Eagle, about 220 members of the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and about 200 members of the 3rd Medical Battalion, as well as about 65 staffers at Combined Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan, Vician reported.

Also supporting the operations are about 50 members of the 267th Quartermaster Company, about 45 members of the Air Expeditionary Group and about 40 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4.

"This is a coordinated, U.S.-government response," Vician said. "We plan to continue humanitarian operations in Pakistan throughout the winter, and we anticipate that in the spring, the mission will shift to one more focused on reconstruction, and at that point, (the U.S. Agency for International Development) and nongovernmental organizations will assume an even greater role."

U.S. military medical members have treated more than 22,000 patients since the earthquake, officials said.

Earlier this month, the Seabees adopted Kardala Village outside Muzaffarabad as part of the Pakistani military's "Adopt a Village" program to provide sturdy shelters to earthquake survivors in the Kashmir region, embassy officials reported. The Seabees plan to build a boy's high school and middle school, in addition to temporary shelters.

The Seabees previously adopted the village of Miani Bondi, where they built five buildings now being used as a temporary girls' high school and 70 temporary shelters.

"We want to do for the people of Kardala what we did for the people of Miani Bandi," said Lt. Mike Trest, officer in charge of the Port Hueneme, Calif.-based Seabee detachment.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people and left more than 3 million people homeless, sparking fears of more deaths due to harsh winter conditions.

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Biographies:
Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, USN

Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, commander of U.S. Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan, looks over the relief efforts in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, from a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The United States is participating in a multinational assistance and support effort led by the Pakistani government to bring aid to the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck the region Oct. 8. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeromy K. Cross, USAF  
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